Bodies Transformed: Torso

Constance Sheares

This document is part of a joint project of the NUS Museums and the University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore. This image and accompanying text appears here with the kind permission of the NUS Museums. Note: click on any of the pictures in the following text to obtain additional information and larger images, which take longer to download.

 Red Modesty The startling intensity and resonance of the pomegranate red glaze can best be seen in torsos such as Red Modesty, 1991 (Fig. 26), and Red Maiden, 1991 (Fig. 27). The latter is an off-shoot of the Dancer series which dates from 1990.

Red Modesty continues a process of radical simplification begun in the late 1980s with such works as Modesty, 1986 (Fig. 30) where "although there is a certain amount of abbreviation already, you can still see half of the head and three hands."

Red Maiden In Red Modesty, the natural forms are retained but are pared down to their essentials. Although it can be read in purely formal terms, it affects the spectator in terms of the associations it arouses, particularly with fragments of classical sculpture in its omission of head and limbs. By cutting out the breasts and the pudenda, he in fact directs our attention to these missing parts, thus creating a presence out of absence. These hollows give the work a strange, mysterious life. Eng Teng explains, "Conceptually, this second series is different from the earlier one. This second series is inspired by the way nude figures reproduced in magazines or newspapers are taped over to mask the vital areas. Since I didn't want to mask out the vital areas, I might as well carve them out. So I literally carved and hollowed them out."

Red Torso, 1992 (Fig.31), in pomegranate red, is joyous, sinuous and voluptuous. Works such as this attest to Eng Teng's belief that the great mystery of art is the ability to reveal the unconscious. The erotic energy of this figure is not simply the product of the sculpture's subject matter but is derived from the material process too. Clay is a material which was capable of answering the complex questions that confronted him in the different phases of his work. It can carry the imprint of the artist as one who acts directly to transform the material nature of the medium. It is a traditional medium that can perform the complex task of representation without losing its own nature. The direct, hands-on action of the artist is a crucial requirement for Eng Teng to whom it is important to retain the evidence of material manipulation in its most vivid form.

Cobra I Male Torso Cobra I, 1997 (Fig. 32) which is based on a 1989 maquette, Male Torso, 1989 (Fig. 33), is an allegorical and rather disturbing sculpture. It is arresting in its exaggeration of features of the human body so that it bears a resemblance to the hooded head of a cobra, from which it derives its name. It is full of contradictions, a poetic, post-surrealist object that is both traditional and untraditional in content.


Constance Sheares. Bodies Transformed: Ng Eng Teng in the Nineties. Singapore: NUS Museums/ National University of Singapore, 1999.

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Last updated: 11 January 2001